A recent Court of Appeal decision dealing with appeals against sentences by six drivers found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving has provided assistance in ascertaining the length of sentence that is likely to be imposed in such cases.
In general, where there are no ‘aggravating circumstances’, a sentence of 12 months to 2 years’ imprisonment will be appropriate. Where there is ‘intermediate culpability’ the sentence will be between 2 and 4 ½ years’ imprisonment. Where there is ‘higher culpability’ the sentence will be between 4 ½ and 7 years’ imprisonment. In cases where there is ‘serious culpability’, the sentence will be between 7 and 14 years’ imprisonment.
Aggravating circumstances include a number of factors, such as prolonged bad driving, excessive speed, the consumption of alcohol or drugs (this includes prescription drugs known to cause drowsiness) and the use of a mobile phone whilst driving. There are also mitigating factors, such as a good past driving record. Two specific mitigating factors are where the defendant has behaved responsibly after the accident (i.e. by staying to render help) and has shown remorse after the accident. The aggravating and mitigating factors are considered in total to ascertain the applicable level of culpability.
With regard to drink-driving, the degree of culpability will normally be assessed as follows:
• lowest level – being barely over the legal limit (and the driving is otherwise careless rather than dangerous);
• intermediate level – where the person is found to have consumed twice the drink-driving limit; and
• higher levels – where the person is found to be more than two times over the drink-driving limit.
One factor which should stand out is that the still common practice of using a mobile phone when driving is an aggravating factor in such cases.